FBI Director James Comey argued privately that it was too close to Election Day for the United States government to name Russia as meddling in the U.S. election and ultimately ensured that the FBI's name was not on the document that the U.S. government put out, a former FBI official tells CNBC.The official said some government insiders are perplexed as to why Comey would have election timing concerns with the Russian disclosure but not with the Huma Abedin email discovery disclosure he made Friday.
FBI Director James Comey's letter to Congress on Friday has drawn criticism from all corners -- Democrats, Republicans, prosecutors, Justice Department officials from multiple administrations -- but there's one angle in particular that's rankled some Comey critics.A variety of government agencies have investigated Russia's role in hacking Democratic emails for the purpose of influencing the outcome of the presidential election, and to date, U.S. officials have agreed that the evidence is overwhelming pointing to Russia's role. Several members of Congress urged the FBI to help get to the bottom of this, and in testimony last month, Comey said he could not confirm whether or not such an investigation was underway.CNBC reports today that the FBI did help uncover relevant details, but Comey was reluctant to say so -- because the facts emerged too close to Election Day.
To be sure, a few weeks ago, a joint report from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence reached the public, and confirmed widely held fears: Russia appears to have stolen materials in order to interfere with the American political process.But the FBI was not part of the report's release, and CNBC's report sheds light on why. CNBC quoted a former FBI official saying Comey agreed with the findings from the other agencies, but the director "was against putting it out before the election."Now, by some measures, that's a defensible posture. The FBI has traditionally wanted to avoid the appearance of intervening in elections, and that's an entirely worthwhile principle. In this case, it's borderline -- if Russia committed an election crime in the United States, it's hardly outrageous that the FBI would both investigate the allegations and comment on the findings -- but because there's evidence Russia's crimes are directly related to trying to boost Donald Trump, I can appreciate why Comey may want to avoid the controversy so close to an election.But you probably see where I'm going with this: if Comey is going to honor these principles, he needs to apply them evenly. The FBI director can't credibly claim Russia's alleged crimes in the United States must go without mention because of the election season, while at the same time commenting publicly -- and even offering vague, substance-free updates -- on Hillary Clinton's email server management.If Comey has an explanation for the competing standards -- one for news related to Trump, another for news related to Clinton -- I'll be eager to hear it.Postscript: The fact that this story leaked to CNBC today is also a reminder that Comey's decision has critics within the FBI itself, which is rumored to be divided over the director's controversial move.Update: The Huffington Post's reporting confirms the CNBC piece: "A source familiar with the interagency discussions confirms to The Huffington Post that Comey declined to do so because, specifically, he was concerned the statement was coming too close to the election. The source who spoke to HuffPost is not a former FBI official and spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters."